In This Article:
- The Cult(ure) of Reputation
- Jesus and Reputation
- Do as I Do
- Our Responsibility and Finding Refuge in the God With Us
The Cult(ure) of Reputation
In the digital age, we are obsessed with rating things and it is hard to find an area of life where that doesn’t impact us. We rate things like restaurants and their food, but it is not just the food quality that we judge. We also look at things like the speed of service, friendliness of the staff, and if we had it delivered, how that process went. We rate movies and actors, books and authors, social media influencers and their content. Closer to home for me, we rate professors, YouTubers, and even our pastors. These ratings can take many forms, from personal gossip to posted online reviews; to paraphrase one such review of myself that I saw: 4 out of 5 stars, “He’s okay, I guess.”
With the prevalence of rating people, it can be easy to tie our sense of worth to our online reputation. We certainly live in a culture that enjoys cults of personality, assigning worth to people based more on reputation rather than action. As a Christian, how are we supposed to think about these things? How does our faith shape our attitude toward reputation and good standing in our communities?
One of the beautiful parts of Christian theology is that the eternal Son of God came down and lived among us. The apostle John uses the phrase ‘tabernacled’ or ‘dwelt’ to convey the profound personal sense of Jesus’ life among us (John 1:14). A vital takeaway of this theology is that there is no part of the human experience with which Jesus is unfamiliar with. Even with questions about reputation and being rated by others, we can see that Jesus faced the same thing. Our answer, then, as to how we are supposed to think about these things can be found in the life of Jesus.
Jesus and Reputation
Perhaps unsurprisingly for the discerning Bible reader, Jesus’ life was filled with examples of people judging and rating him, often unfairly. What may be surprising is the nuanced way Jesus responded in these stories. Let’s look at two examples briefly.
Nazareth and Offense
At the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus returned to his roots in the city of Nazareth (Luke 4:14-30). On the Sabbath, he was afforded the honor and courtesy of reading from the Tanakh, equivalent to our Christian Old Testament. Things seemed fine on the surface, but then he read. Taking the scroll of Isaiah, Jesus read a prophecy and declared that it was fulfilled right then and there; Isaiah was talking about him! We might expect his hometown crowd to go wild and rejoice, but that isn’t what happens. Jesus is met with incredulity; how could this boy be anything special, they wondered. As Matthew tells us, the crowds took offense at his presumption (Matthew 13:57). So, how did Jesus react? Well, you can read about it, but let’s return to that after seeing our second story.
Jesus on Trial
At the end of his ministry, Jesus was put on trial before the Sanhedrin, or the high religious court of Israel. As Mark 14 tells us, many witnesses came up and slandered Jesus with false testimony throughout the proceedings. Imagine the court scene; angry and full of tension. The high priest and his faction want Jesus dead, and they not only keep calling witnesses to make false claims about Jesus but are even physically violent toward their prisoner throughout the trial (John 18:22). Now, let’s ask our key question: how did Jesus react? More pointedly, did he react the same way in Luke 4 as in Mark 14? The answer, and key, is no; Jesus reacted differently in each story, which is essential for our response to questions about reputation.
Do as I Do
As most will know, Jesus remained silent throughout his trial before the Sanhedrin. He made no answer to each new lie and attack upon his reputation. It was not until the end, when placed under oath, that he finally answered and said, “I am.” (Mark 14:62). Compare that to our story from Nazareth. Here, when confronted with people again taking offense at him and attacking his reputation, he did respond. Drawing from the Old Testament stories of Elijah and Elisha, Jesus defended his reputation as a prophet and told the people that others would accept what they had rejected. Do you see the tension here? In one story, Jesus defended his reputation sharply; his words to the people of Nazareth drove them toward anger and attempted murder! In the other, Jesus silently endured the lies until the end.
Friends, these two reactions from Jesus highlight a crucial point. There will be times when we can, should, and must defend ourselves and our reputation. There are times when we must speak out for truth, boldly and even provocatively! Jesus’ words to the Nazarenes were not tempered or aimed to de-escalate the situation. Instead, they drove to the heart of the issue: unbelief because of personal incredulity. However, this is not the only good and godly response that we can have. There are other times when we do not need to respond, when our reputation in the eyes of others should matter very little, and instead, we, like Jesus, should entrust ourselves to him who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23). In these times, we press into the work God has called us to do no matter what others say about it. Our mission is not to correct their misconception but to live in obedience.
Our Responsibility and Finding Refuge in the God With Us
These two stories from Jesus highlight the two elements of how you and I, as Christians, should think about reputation. First, we should have a good reputation built on the principles and commands of God (i.e., loving him and loving others). A good reputation is clearly desirable, as Proverbs says, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold,” (Proverbs 22:1). Peter exhorts us to have a good reputation in our communities (1 Peter 2:12). Paul lists a positive reputation as a necessary qualification for Church leadership (1 Timothy 3:2-7). Jesus tells us to let our light (read: reputation) shine before others (Matthew 5:16). If we are living out the commands of God, but people do not understand that, we should respond and show how we are living out our God-given love. Love does not ignore issues but attacks them head-on.
Having said that, there will also be times when the truth no longer matters for some. In some situations, we see that people think winning the argument matters more than being in the right. There are some people who, no matter what you do, will not think well of you. Even the literal son of God was betrayed by one of his twelve closest friends! In these cases, I think the story of Jesus shows us the way forward in silence. Not every offense to our reputation needs addressing. While we should seek a good reputation, we do so that people may see the God who loves us and enables these good deeds. A reputation is a means, not an end. Because of that, we need to sometimes let go of what others are saying about us; no matter how much we protest, they do not care about the truth. Instead, we should entrust ourselves to God. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, what God thinks about us is infinitely more important than anything else in the world.1 Let God’s evaluation of our actions stand and leave out all the rest.
So, where does that leave us? As always, seeking the way forward through prayer and wisdom. Christians should approach attacks on our reputation by looking to Jesus and asking, what do the times demand? The author of Ecclesiastes understood that wise and godly living does not always, or even usually, have a single-faceted response to a problem. With our reputation, we should abide by the wisdom of Ecclesiastes and understand there is a time for everything, including “a time to be silent and a time to speak?” (Ecc 3:7b). When faced with a dilemma, pray. And remember, you are praying to someone who: 1) has faced the trouble of having his reputation attacked, 2) gives wisdom generously without finding fault, and 3) will be with you through your difficulty.
1 Lewis, C.S. (1966). The Weight of Glory. The Macmillan Co., p. 10.
Approved by faculty for the College of Theology on Jan. 9, 2024.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.